It can be quite unnerving to have the police put you in handcuffs, put you in the squad car and drive you to the police station for booking. You might feel a lot of pressure to explain your situation and to try to convince the officers that you are innocent. But sometimes the words you speak while they are arresting you can come back to bite you later on in your defense trial. It’s best to know now what to avoid saying, so that you don’t incriminate yourself if you are ever under arrest.
The right to remain silent and the right to an attorney
The Fifth and Sixth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States give you certain rights when you are in police custody.
Among other things, the Fifth Amendment gives you the right to remain silent when being questioned by police interrogators. Important Supreme Court cases have solidified these rights into a process whereby the police officers read you your rights (known as Miranda Rights) after your arrest and before each interrogation, in order to remind you of them.
The Sixth Amendment gives you the right to have an attorney present while the police are questioning you. This is so that your attorney can counsel you on how to answer the questions in a way that isn’t unjust or unfair to your defense. It is also because attorneys have special training in identifying improper or illegal questioning techniques by the police and can protect you from them.
Invoking your rights
From the moment the police take you into custody, it is best not to say anything at all. Instead, it is a good idea to invoke both your right to remain silent and your right to an attorney immediately, and then remain silent until your attorney arrives.
Neither of these rights are automatic. You must specifically invoke them. In other words, the police do not have to stop interrogating you unless you clearly state, “I am invoking my right to remain silent” and “I am invoking my right to have an attorney present.”
Although being in police custody is a stressful and scary experience, if you remember to stay silent until your attorney arrives, you can avoid situations in which you accidentally say something that will be used against you in court later.